Welcome to the December 7, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
NSF Joins in Targeting Educators to Celebrate Computer Science Education Week 2011
National Science Foundation (12/05/11) Lisa-Joy Zgorski
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently began publishing and disseminating CS Bits & Bytes, a one-page newsletter highlighting innovative computer science research, in recognition of Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) 2011. Computer science is the only science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field with more job openings than there are college graduates to fill them, and the NSF's Computer Information Science and Engineering leadership is working to address this underproduction problem by promoting ways to make computer science more engaging and accessible to K-12 students. "The CS Bits & Bytes series emphasizes how computer science permeates and improves our lives and supports progress across many other scientific and engineering disciplines," says NSF's Farnam Jahanian. NSF is using experts from the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Program, which consists mostly of elementary and secondary school math and science teachers. "The goal is for educators and parents to use CS Bits & Bytes to inspire students to engage in the multi-faceted world of computer science, to become not just users but creators of technology, and to develop the skills to use computation to their own ends, across a wide span of interests and disciplines," says NSF's Jan Curry.
Carnegie Mellon Researchers Develop Computerized Method for Finding Similar Images in Photos, Paintings, Sketches
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (12/06/11) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a computerized method for performing several visual tasks, including matching sketches of objects with photographs of the same objects. The researchers, led by CMU professors Alexei Efros and Abhinav Gupta, hypothesized that it is the unique aspects of an image, in relation to other images being analyzed, that differentiates it, and it is those elements that should be used to match it with similar images. The researchers quantified uniqueness based on a large data set of randomly selected images. "We don't know if this is anything like how humans compare images, but it's the best approximation we've been able to achieve," Efros says. The technique also can be applied to computational rephotography--the combination of historic photographs with modern-day photos taken from the same perspective. In addition, the technique can be combined with global positioning system-tagged photo albums to determine the location where a particular painting of a landmark was made. Future research includes using the technique to enhance object detection for computer vision and studying ways to accelerate the computationally intensive matching process.
Robotics: Androids Close the Gap With People
Financial Times (12/05/11) Lindsay Whipp
Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro recently led the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) in developing Elfoid P1, a prototype portable tele-operated android that is designed to convey the human presence that is missing from a phone conversation. Elfoid is a mobile phone-sized android equipped with soft urethane gel skin and NTT DoCoMo mobile phone technology. Ishiguro hopes that Elfoid will lead to a new form of communications that combines voice, movement, touch, and imagination. Although he says that not all robots need to be humanoid, for those that are going to handle human jobs, having a human presence is important. Elfoid is based on Geminoid HI-1, a hybrid of human and robot that relays speech delivered from a remote location through the Internet. Geminoid can recreate the verbal and physical presence of the caller anywhere else in the world. "In Japan, humanoid robots ... not only have a character, but they are regarded as and referred to as 'persons'--not 'as if' they were persons, but as persons," notes University of Michigan professor Jennifer Robertson.
Creating Artificial Intelligence Based on the Real Thing
New York Times (12/05/11) Steve Lohr
Researchers from Cornell University, Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Merced, and IBM are developing technology based on biological systems. The project recently received $21 million in funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which helped lead to the development of prototype neurosynaptic microprocessors that function more like neurons and synapses than conventional semiconductors. The prototype chip has 256 neuron-like nodes, surrounded by more than 262,000 synaptic memory modules. A computer running the prototype chip has learned how to play the video game Pong and to identify the numbers one through 10 written by a human on a digital pad. The project aims to find designs, concepts, and techniques that might be borrowed from biology to push the limits of computing. The research is "the quest to engineer the mind by reverse-engineering the brain," says IBM's Dharmendra S. Modha. DARPA wants the project to produce technology that is self-organizing, able to learn instead of just responding to programming commands, and run on very little power. "It seems that we can build a computing architecture that is quite general-purpose and could be used for a large class of applications," says Cornell professor Rajit Manohar.
Overhauling Computer Science Education
T.H.E. Journal (12/05/11) D.A. Barber
Computer science (CS) education needs to be retooled to address a pronounced lack of foundational computer technology knowledge among students. "We do think there is a good argument to be made that everybody should have some level of understanding of what computers can do and what they can't do," says San Diego State University's (SDSU's) Leland Beck. A key factor behind the dearth of students’ basic computational skills is the absence of a process for teachers to acquire CS certification. The goal of the CS10K program is to train 10,000 high school educators nationally to teach advanced CS courses by 2015. Meanwhile, the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center and SDSU received three-year U.S. National Science Foundation grants to broaden the computer science curriculum among San Diego high schools, community colleges, and universities. A Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) study found that courses in CS basics often are not credited as general electives in high school or as college-preparatory electives. "So what we say is it has to count for something and the simplest thing--which a lot of states have done--is to make it count as a graduation requirement as a math or science credit," says CSTA executive director Chris Stephenson.
New Research Into Robotic Companions for Older People
University of Hertfordshire (12/02/11) Hannah Broady
Acceptable Robotics Companions for Aging Years (ACCOMPANY) is a new European project that aims to develop a robotic system for assisting the elderly with everyday tasks in the home. As part of the ACCOMPANY project, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire will use a Care-o-bot 3 to assess the needs of the elderly and how they accept the robot in an intelligent home environment. The project will use the results to improve the technology so that it better suits the demands and preferences of the elderly. "The envisaged relationship between the user and the robot is that of co-learner, whereby the robot and user provide mutual assistance and so that the user is not dominated by technology, but feels empowered by it," says ACCOMPANY coordinator Farshid Amirabdollahian. "Our aim is to use the robot to increase independence and quality of life."
Researchers Hope to Build Universal Human Age Estimator
PhysOrg.com (12/05/11) Lisa Zyga
National University of Singapore researchers have collected hundreds of thousands of images and videos from the Internet to build a universal human age estimator that is applicable to all ethnic groups and varying image qualities. The researchers developed an automatic Web image and video-mining system using age-related search queries to collect nearly 400,000 images from image search engines such as Flickr and Google Images, as well as 10,000 YouTube video clips. The face images were tagged with ages and were used to develop a learning algorithm for training the system. The researchers removed poor-quality images and false alarms, leaving about 77,000 images and 219,000 faces. The images in the database included faces of people from different racial groups and in varying lighting conditions. "The automatically mined Web image database possesses the generalization capability, e.g., models trained on this data can be applied to general faces," says National University of Singapore researcher Bingbing Ni. In testing, the system can estimate a person's age within an average range of about five years.
Software That Listens for Lies
New York Times (12/03/11) Anne Eisenberg
Several linguists, engineers, and computer scientists are developing computer systems that can recognize signs of emotional speech, such as deception, anger, friendliness, and flirtation. The technology is advancing quickly as labs share research, says Stanford University's Dan Jurafsky, who has been studying the language that people use in four-minute speed-dating sessions. "The scientific goal is to understand how our emotions are reflected in our speech, [and] the engineering goal is to build better systems that understand these emotions," Jurafsky says. Columbia University professor Julia Hirschberg has developed a system that can identify 70 percent of lies. The algorithms are based on an analysis of the different ways people spoke in a research project when they lied or told the truth. Meanwhile, University of Southern California professor Shrikanth Narayanan is using computers to analyze emotional speech by focusing on hundreds of cues such as pitch, timing, and intensity to distinguish between patterns of angry and non-angry speech. Montclair State University professor Eileen Fitzpatrick is using computers to identify groups of words that could signal deception. Stanford University professor David F. Larcker recently used Jurafsky's research to analyze the words of financial executives who made statements that were later disproved.
Software Could Help Optimize Energy Consumption of Cities
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (12/02/11)
Technical University of Madrid researchers have developed software that estimates the amount of solar radiation reaching streets and buildings, which could help optimize cities' energy consumption. "What we have done is calculate radiation using supercomputers that simulate the vast amount of data involved in the entire atmospheric process," says Madrid researcher Roberto San Jose. The software involves creating up to 100,000 rays of light for a few seconds from any position and confirming the collision point upon reaching obstacles. The calculations required the Supercomputing and Visualization Center of Madrid and the Mare Nostrum supercomputers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center to work for 72 hours to generate just six seconds of light and shadow evolution for an area of Madrid. "The results can serve as a tool for sustainability and energy optimization in cities from both an architectural and urban planning point of view," San Jose says. Two mathematical shadow models were developed by the researchers--one displays three-dimensional images of radiation behavior and the other details the exchange of energy transpiring in a chosen area.
Biocompatible Graphene Transistor Array Reads Cellular Signals
Technische Universitat Munchen (12/02/11)
Researchers at Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and the Juelich Research Center have developed a graphene-based transistor array that is compatible with living biological cells and capable of recording the electrical signals they generate. The experimental setup involves an array of 16 graphene solution-gated field-effect transistors (G-SGFETs) fabricated on copper foil by chemical vapor deposition and standard photolithographic and etching processes. "Variations of the electrical and chemical environment in the vicinity of the FET gate region will be converted into a variation of the transistor current," says TUM researcher Jose Antonio Garrido. The research showed that the inherent noise level of G-SGFETs was comparable to that of ultralow-noise silicon devices, according to Garrido. "Much of our ongoing research is focused on further improving the noise performance of graphene devices, and on optimizing the transfer of this technology to flexible substrates such as parylene and kapton, both of which are currently used for in vivo implants," he says.
U.S. Intelligence Group Seeks Machine Learning Breakthroughs
Network World (12/02/11) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) announced that it is looking for new ideas that may become the basis of cutting-edge machine-learning projects. "In many application areas, the amount of data to be analyzed has been increasing exponentially [sensors, audio and video, social network data, Web information], stressing even the most efficient procedures and most powerful processors," according to IARPA. "Most of these data are unorganized and unlabeled and human effort is needed for annotation and to focus attention on those data that are significant." IARPA's request for information asks about proposed methods for the automation of architecture and algorithm selection and combination, feature engineering, and training data scheduling, as well as compelling reasons to use such approaches in a scalable multi-modal analytic system and whether supporting technologies are readily available. IARPA says that innovations in hierarchical architectures such as Deep Belief Nets and hierarchical clustering will be needed for useful automatic machine-learning systems. It wants to identify promising areas for investment and plans to hold a machine learning workshop in March 2012.
First Demonstration of Opto-Electronic Reservoir Computing
Technology Review (12/02/11)
Universite Libre de Bruxelles researchers have developed a form of computing that exploits feedback loops to perform extremely fast analog calculations. The researchers found that a nonlinear feedback mechanism is basically an information processor, because it takes a certain input and processes it to generate an output. The feedback loop is a kind of memory that stores information about the system's recent history, making this form of processing an analysis of just a small segment of the recent past. The researchers, led by Yvan Paquot, are working on reservoir computing, which consists of a large number of nodes that are randomly connected. Each node is a kind of non-linear feedback loop, and the inputs are fed into the random nodes in the reservoir, while the outputs are taken from other randomly chosen nodes. The researchers say the reservoir network is similar to a neural network, except the output signals are weighted during training, which makes the process much simpler than with a neural network. "Our experiment is the first implementation of reservoir computing fast enough for real time information processing," Paquot says.
Controlling Robots With Cell Phone Applications
Live Science (12/01/11) Erin Newton
Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) researchers have developed two applications that turn Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone into remote controls for robots. The iLabArm app enables users to pinch the screen of an iPod Touch to make the finger-like grippers of an arm-like robotic manipulator open and close. The iLabBot app lets users control a robot's movement by tilting the device. "Our apps for robot control provide intuitive and natural interfaces for human-robot interaction," says NYU-Poly professor Vikram Kapila "This can allow non-experts to effortlessly interact with robots." The researchers say the apps could be used in medicine, manufacturing, laboratory research, and the military. Kapila says the apps also could provide special-needs children with entertainment, learning, and peer-engagement opportunities.
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